Florida vs. Georgia score: Gators closer but not championship-caliber after loss to Dawgs

By Adam Silverstein
November 3, 2019
Florida vs. Georgia score: Gators closer but not championship-caliber after loss to Dawgs

Image Credit: GatorsFB / Twitter

In its biggest game of the 2019 season, the No. 6 Florida Gators came out flat, and even worse, fell short. Florida (7-2, 4-2 SEC) knocked itself out of College Football Playoff contention and drastically worsened its odds to win the SEC East in a 24-17 defeat at the hands of the No. 8 Georgia Bulldogs (7-2, 4-1 SEC), which won their third straight in the annual rivalry series.

The Dawgs led wire-to-wire on Saturday, and while they never pulled away, it never felt as if the Gators truly had a chance to win the game. So what did Florida do wrong, and what does it mean with a handful of games left in the regular season? Let’s take a look at the Gators’ second loss of the campaign.

1. Florida hurt itself on the first series and never recovered: Sports is all about momentum, and any the Gators had entering Saturday’s game seemed lost at the conclusion of their first series. That sounds like an exaggeration, and UF certainly did not lose the game in the first couple of minutes, but there was a clear feeling from the start that the team was either unprepared, sloppy, nervous or some combination of the three. Florida prefers to start on defense and take the ball in the second half because it makes strategic sense and slow starts can affect your team. That’s exactly what happened after kickoff as the Gators’ offense stumbled out of the gate.

No, there was not a turnover, but Florida had about as bad an offensive series as it could without one. It called two timeouts in the first 3:18 because it struggled to get lined up correctly; after the second, it false started. It then appeared to get a third-down conversion at the Georgia 40, but referees reviewed and overturned the spot without indisputable evidence of the ball’s location; it was apropos that it was taken away as UF would not convert a third down in more than three quarters. Head coach Dan Mullen then called a passing play on fourth-and-1 in enemy territory without even a running back in the backfield. He basically told his team that he didn’t trust the offensive line or the running game.

The Gators turned it over on downs, which is not the end of the world, but the defense immediately gave up four third-down conversions on the ensuing series, including conversions of 14 yards and 11 yards. The Dawgs did settle for a field goal, but the Gators’ next possession was another bust with them — in totality — calling two timeouts, committing two pre-snap penalties and allowing an unblocked sack all in its first two possessions.

Once the second quarter began, the storm seemed to grow stronger. Junior cornerback CJ Henderson committed pass interference, UGA converted a third-and-6 (despite pushing itself back with a false start), and it got credit for a 6-yard pass that, upon review, was clearly incomplete but somehow not overturned. Two more third-down conversions (8 of 10), along with growing complaints about uncalled holding, and Georgia was in the end zone with a 10-point lead that felt as if it simply should not have existed.

2. Speaking of third down: Look, “Third and Grantham” is not a turn of phrase by accident. If defensive coordinator Todd Grantham is unable to get pressure either blitzing or with four rushers, his defense has historically been ineffective. And that’s exactly what happened Saturday as the Gators were wholly unable to get to Dawgs quarterback Jake Fromm. Florida did not register a sack on the day, and Fromm had eons in a spotless pocket to convert one third down after another. Georgia finished 12-of-18 on third down, the first time it has done that against a ranked team since it converted 12 of 18 against … Grantham’s Louisville defense in 2014. Imagine that. Now realize the Bulldogs were the SEC’s worst team on third down this season entering Saturday’s game.

By converting one third down after another, Georgia extended drives and kept Florida’s offense off the field — particularly in the first half. As such, the Gators had limited opportunities to put points on the board, and when they did have the ball, they struggled on third down starting 0 for 6 through three-plus quarters before converting 2 of 3 in their final extended drive of the game. Georgia was just fine with that as Florida — down two scores with 10 minutes left to play — lacked urgency in a 17-play, 75-yard drive that chopped 6:50 off the clock. (More on that in a minute.)

You are not going to win converting 2 of 9 on third down, and you’re probably not going to win only facing nine third downs in a game, unless you’re absolutely lighting up the opposition offensively. It was apropos to see Georgia convert a third-and-7 with a 22-yard completion to ice the game.

3. The coaches did not help: Let’s clear this up before we even get started. Head coach Dan Mullen is the right guy to lead the Gators, who are ahead of expectations in Year 2 even with this loss and are playing better offensively than they have in a decade. But there are issues on the coaching staff, and even Mullen himself deserves blame for some of his decision making. Starting with Mullen, then, his game plan Saturday showed a shocking lack of creativity compared to expectation. And Florida was never in a big enough hole for him to make massive changes to any plan he did create.

Finally back from a shoulder injury, junior athlete Kadarius Toney was supposed to be a difference-maker; he touched the ball once for 0 yards because his blocker fell down. Redshirt freshman quarterback Emory Jones, who was used extensively and often effectively in the offense through the first handful of games, saw just one play for the second straight game; this despite the fact that the running game is clearly better with Jones in for snaps as he can not only run but it forces the opposition to commit a defender to him. Mullen did nothing creative in the running game, only calling 11 true rushes. Even in the passing game where the Gators had success, there seemed to be nothing added out of the bye week.

Mullen finally started running … with 10 minutes left to play … and did not have Florida in a 2-minute offense as it took 17 plays and 6:50 to get down the field to get within a touchdown of Georgia. He was seen screaming at co-offensive coordinator Billy Gonzales on the sideline after the offense struggled to line up in a key spot for the fourth time in the game; it was the third time Mullen had to call a timeout, the fourth occasion resulted in a huge sack for redshirt junior QB Kyle Trask.

And then there’s Grantham, whose defense was exposed — again — as mentioned above. For every game Florida has like it did against Auburn, it seems to have a game like this. The expectation was the return of two senior defensive ends in Jon Greenard and Jabari Zuniga would give the Gators the pass rush they needed to affect Fromm, but they never got close. Not only was there no pressure, there did not seem to be any adjustments. As such, the secondary was left exposed, and safeties coach Ron English similarly did not make any significant adjustments. Mullen probably needs to make changes on both sides of the ball, not only for game-playing purposes but to improve recruiting, too.

4. Trask and the passing game delivered yet again: For any criticism Mullen deserves, he should carry an equal amount of praise considering how well this offense has thrown the ball this year. Yes, having talented, veteran receivers helps, but Trask has seemingly improved week by week. He completed 21-of-33 passes for 257 yards and two touchdowns on Saturday, going blow for blow with Fromm despite not having anywhere near as clean of a pocket. He simply did not have the support in the running game or on defense, but that should not detract from the way Trask played in this game and other big moments this season. Sophomore tight end Kyle Pitts (four receptions, 78 yards) was dynamite in the first half, and senior wide receiver Freddie Swain (eight receptions, 91 yards, touchdown) picked up six first downs in the second half for an incredible showing.

5. Unlike the last two years, this was a winnable game for the Gators: If this edition of Florida-Georgia was played 10 times, I’m convinced that Florida would win four or five of those meetings. Despite the Gators looking unprepared at times, getting outrushed by nearly 100 yards and allowing 67% conversions on third down, they never actually felt out of the game. It may not have felt like Florida was going to win — a lot of that having to do with the tone that was set in the first quarter — it never felt as if it could not come back. After being demolished by the Dawgs 42-7 in 2017 and 36-17 last season, the Gators were their equals on Saturday. The difference? Well, Georgia is not anywhere near the team it was the last two seasons, but Florida is not either — for many of the right reasons.

There was also some bad luck, some difficult officiating to overcome, some poor coaching decisions and … some level of talent disparity. Georgia’s dominant offensive line negated Florida’s defensive pressure. UF’s offensive line was not capable of allowing the team to play balanced against UGA. Mullen has not yet rebuilt this roster, and he needs to find those difference-makers beyond talented offensive playmakers. That should be the goal of this recruiting class and beyond.

6. Odds and ends: Georgia now leads the all-time series 52-43-2 against Florida with a 46-40-1 marak in Jacksonville and three straight wins. As such, the Gators have only won seven of the last 14 meetings and 21 of the last 30 against the Dawgs … UF is now 9-5 against UGA since 1990 when they square off as ranked teams … Florida fell to 4-3 against ranked opponents under Mullen (3-3 against top 10 teams) … the Gators lost their first game decided by fewer than 10 points under Mullen … Mullen is now 4-2-1 against the spread as an underdog at UF … Florida failed to score 24+ points for the first time in 13 games … UF has scored in 394 consecutive games, an NCAA record

7. What’s next, and what’s left? The Gators have basically been eliminated from the CFP conersation and no longer control their destiny, but they still have an outside chance to win the SEC East. The only way they can do so is by taking care of business and winning their next two SEC games, first at home against Vanderbilt on Saturday at noon ET on ESPN. Florida also needs one more win to solidify bowl eligibility as two of its seven wins are against FCS opponents.


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